The Communist Party of Australia sees the development of the manufacturing sector as critical for the future development of the Australian economy and for the creation of high quality sustainable jobs for workers.
The contribution of the Australian manufacturing sector to the Australian economy and jobs has been steadily eroded as successive Australian governments have adopted neo-liberal policies and the global economy has become increasingly integrated.
The economy has undergone a massive restructuring. The Whitlam Labor Government (1972-75) began the process of winding back tariffs and abolishing import quotas in the mid-1970s. This process, continued by the Fraser, Hawke-Keating, Howard, Rudd, the Gillard and now the Abbott Governments, has all but destroyed the clothing, textile and footwear and the vehicle industries in Australia. When the process began, the manufacturing sector employed over 35 per cent of the workforce. It is now less than ten per cent.
The move toward a global division of labour has seen transnational corporations play nation against nation and worker against worker in pursuit of contracts and jobs, and governments driving down labour conditions to attract foreign investors. As a result our previously strong manufacturing sector has been hit hard with off–shoring of jobs and manufacturing processes moving to lower wage areas of the international economy in a race to the bottom in terms of unit labour costs. The failure of governments to engage in economic planning coupled with deregulation of the financial sector and entry into free trade agreements has left Australia at the mercy of the corporate sector – the so-called market forces. They show no mercy in pursuit of profits. Sustainable manufacturing is the backbone of an economy. The re-focusing of government policy over decades has seen a shift in focus towards financial and general services, tourism, hospitality and resources. The unsustainable approach of an economy dependent on the resource sector can only lead to long-term economic damage to Australia and an exhaustion of our skills base and sustainable economic industries.
The CPA sees it as vital that our manufacturing industry is developed and protected from the neo-liberal economic race to the bottom.
The CPA puts forward the following elements as essential to any framework for planning and developing a strong manufacturing sector:
- Skilled labour – all levels of education and training should be free. At higher levels there should be appropriate income and other support, not just for younger students but also for adults returning to study.
- Industrial relations reform – full restoration of trade union rights, including the right to strike and the right of entry of trade union officials, so that high wages and good working conditions can be won and protected.
- Research & Development – funded by governments and carried out in the public sector with support in the public sector to follow through the outcomes in Australia. University and other public sector research funded out of central revenue and research projects be selected on the basis of their merits – how potentially beneficial they will be to society, how they advance the progress of science, not their immediate importance to profit-driven private corporations.
- Development of manufacturing in public sector – such areas as renewable energy sources, public housing, public infrastructure, medical aids, pharmaceuticals, medical products, food, production materials, agriculture, fire-fighting, conversion of military industries to civilian production, etc.
- Nationalisation of key manufacturing industries – thus ensuring their future in Australia, public benefit from any subsidies and jobs with high wages and good working conditions.
- Finance for R&D, education, development of industries.
- Cut military spending by at least 10 per cent.
- Abolish the $5 billion plus private health insurance rebate.
- Cut the multi-billion dollar diesel fuel rebate to the mining companies.
- Increase corporate taxation and higher marginal tax rates on the rich.
- End negative gearing on investment property.
- Bring in a real super-profits tax to cover all business sectors.
- Establish a publicly owned national bank which can provide cheap loans and profits.
The private sector has failed to deliver for Australian workers and the Australian people. They have taken the government hand-outs, exploited Australian workers and gone offshore. Such policies require the abandonment of neo-liberal economics and in its place pro-people policies.